Along with the fine distinction of law and gospel, comes subtleties in teaching the law, or the 10 commandments. Here is another excerpt from my final exam in my systematics class.
The first three commandments are intended to inform our relation to our creator as creatures. Lutheran teaching of the commandments occurs on three levels, first, what God wants from his creatures, next the resistance that God encounters from these creatures, and finally, what God does in the end. The First Commandment and its appendix dictate that the human creature is to have no other gods. Martin Luther teaches “To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart” (Book of Concord 365) and “that to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God” (365). I believe this commandment is often only partially taught in most confirmation classes. Indeed, trusting the God of Israel for one’s existence is commanded, but the other side of this commandment is that the creature is not to make an idol of any other thing in this temporal life, which can include money, knowledge, job, relationships, etc. Luther writes, “We are to trust in God alone and turn to him, expecting from him only good things…” (367). The sinner’s resistance is that we prefer our own invented Gods. In the end, God gives faith and God provides justification through no doing of our own.
The Second Commandment prohibits us from calling upon the name of God in vain. This obviously applies to deliberate use of God’s name when supporting falsehood, but applies more subtly to false preachers and others who attempt to justify themselves. Luther defines this as “…it is either simply to lie and assert under his name something that is not so…” (373). This is why it is important to have a preacher, to hear what God is doing, so that one might hear the true word. In baptism, we receive God’s name for our use. It is also important to note that it is appropriate to call upon God’s name in time of need or in praise, or when in service to others.
The Third Commandment pertains to time set aside for worshiping God. Luther states that Christians need not concern themselves with the literal application of this commandment according to Jewish law, but rather recognize that it provides the time and opportunity for rest and worship that might otherwise be filled with other things (376). Luther also teaches that the day itself is already holy, because it was created by God, but “it becomes holy or unholy on your account, according as you spend the day in doing holy or unholy things” (377). This is important teaching in congregations who have made an idol out of Sunday morning worship. Worship happens when one is in the place of hearing the Word of God, but also learning and retaining it. This intentional time set aside on a regular basis (and not just Christmas and Easter!) is what God is commanding. God sends a preacher to help us ponder the Word and how it continues to live.